FANTASTIC FEST: September 29th
MAGADHEERA (India, Dir. S.S. Rajamouli)
Motorcycle stuntman Harsha (Ram Charan) crosses paths with Indu (Kajal Aggarwal), and when they accidentally touch he is jolted with memories and emotions he can’t explain. He sets off on a quest to win her heart, but her villainous cousin Raghubeer (Dev Gill) also has his sights set on her. As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, it turns out those memories and emotions Harsha experiences were flashbacks to a past life. 400 years earlier this same story played out with tragic consequences, but with the help of Solomon (Srihari)–another reincarnated player in the old story–Harsha may have a chance at reuniting his soul with his beloved if Raghubeer doesn’t kill them both first. The most recent film in this year’s Fantastic Fest Indian repertory sidebar, MAGADHEERA is a wildly entertaining action/fantasy from director S.S. Rajamouli. Rajamouli’s most recent film was 2015’s BAAHUBALI: THE BEGINNING, one of the biggest box office hits in the history of Indian cinema. He also directed 2012’s EEGA, in which a young man is reincarnated as a fly to take revenge on the gangster who murdered him. Clearly Rajamouli has no shortage of imagination, and MAGADHEERA has more than enough impressive musical numbers and crazy action sequences for five movies. Once again, huge thanks to the festival programmers for giving American audiences a chance to see these films on the big screen!
PSYCHO RAMAN (India, dir. Anurag Kashyap)
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an amazing actor. American arthouse filmgoers might recognize him most readily from his appearance in Ritesh Batra’s romantic drama THE LUNCHBOX (2013), but the previous year he made an unforgettable impact in Anurag Kashyap’s crime epic GANGS OF WASSEYPUR as the ruthless Faizal Khan. He reunites with Kashyap for PSYCHO RAMAN, and the result is one of the best portrayals of a violent sociopath in recent memory. Kashyap, reeling from the commercial rejection of his Scorsesian period gangland drama BOMBAY VELVET last year, has come back with a dark, ferocious cat-and-mouse game between a soulless murderer and a corrupt cop who may as well be the killer’s mirror image. This is Kashyap very much back in the mode of UGLY, the relentlessly bleak police procedural he made before BOMBAY VELVET. PSYCHO RAMAN isn’t as depressing as UGLY — honestly, it’s hard to imagine how it could be—but it’s just as gritty and immediate, and Siddiqui’s turn as the demonic, taunting killer at the film’s center makes it worth watching alone.
TONI ERDMANN (Germany, dir. Maren Ade)
Following the death of his beloved dog Willie, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) decides to visit his successful daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) to reconnect. But Ines is too busy and/or embarrassed to see him, stressed out from long hours and her own ambitions, so Winfried devises a scheme. He poses as a “life coach” named Toni Erdmann who wears a ridiculous wig and goofy teeth and insinuates himself into Ines’s business life, much to her initial panic and reluctant amusement. TONI ERDMANN is utterly unique, a nearly three-hour German comedy/drama that genuinely hilarious and poignant. Simonischek is great as prankster Winfried/Toni, and the interaction between Toni and Ines’s co-workers and associates is masterfully acted. Sandra Hüller is spectacular, giving Ines a real arc culminating in a touching and funny musical number that is one of the most memorable scenes in any film this year.
THEY CALL ME JEEG ROBOT (Italy, dir. Gabriele Mainetti)
While on the run from the police for another petty theft, Enzo (Claudio Santamaria) accidentally dunks himself in a submerged barrel of toxic waste and emerges vomiting black liquid. A few days later, Enzo discovers that he has become nearly invincible and super strong after a drug deal he’s enlisted to help out with goes south. Unfortunately that drug deal has caused him to cross paths with the dangerously unstable Fabio (Luca Marinelli), and Enzo’s beautiful but traumatized neighbor Alessia (Ilenia Pastorelli) is caught in the middle. THEY CALL ME JEEG ROBOT is a superhero movie, but Enzo’s character would shame even the “bad guys” of SUICIDE SQUAD. A low-level criminal subsisting on vanilla pudding cups and watching porno DVDs all day, Enzo is highly unfit to be a superhero. He’s a mess, but Luca Marinelli’s Fabio is much, much worse as the villain Jared Leto was hoping to play as the Joker. Marinelli absolutely steals the show every time he’s on-screen. The film doesn’t shy away from presenting Enzo as a monster, but Santamaria invests him with a shred of humanity even at his worst. It’s a grimy, black-humored take on what has become a depressingly tired subgenre.
COLOSSAL (Canada, dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
Alcoholic, unemployed writer Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is kicked out of the New York apartment she shares with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) after one too many all-night benders. She moves back upstate to her hometown into the house she grew up in, and her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) hires her to work part-time in the bar he inherited from his father. The next day, a giant reptilian monster appears in Seoul and stomps across part of the city. Gloria realizes that she is somehow responsible and has to make it right, but then the situation unexpectedly gets a lot more complicated. COLOSSAL is a deft blend of low-key indie relationship drama and giant monster movie. Normally these two completely different styles would never work together, but writer/director Nacho Vigalondo cleverly points the story in directions that make the central conflict(s) of the film echo in unexpected ways. Hathaway gives a great performance acting against type, but Sudeikis steals the show in a part that is also considerably different than any he’s done before.
After COLOSSAL, I hopped a bus to the kaiju-themed closing night party held at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex in Austin. There was rollerskating, karaoke, a movie theater showing classic kaiju trailers, bowling, an arcade, and even life-size fighting robots. I won the tattoo lottery this year and got my first tattoo: a silver sphere from PHANTASM. Shortly thereafter, my friend Aroon and I sang “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers and Nacho Vigalondo went wild for it. I’m told there is a brief video of this floating around, but I’ll leave that to you to find if you’re so inclined. Overall, my second year at Fantastic Fest was another incredible time and another high point in my life as a cinephile. I can’t wait for next year.
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